With the CBI court in Ghaziabad pronouncing Aarushi’s parents guilty of murdering their daughter and their domestic help, the trial in the double murder cleared the first stage last week. Calling it a “deadly cocktail of assumptions, surmises and conjectures”, the parents said that they would move the high court. The case may drag on for years before we get the final word.
The CBI, which succeeded in getting Rajesh and Nupur Talwar convicted, relied heavily on circumstantial evidence. The judge based the couple’s conviction on a chain of 26 circumstances that pointed to their guilt. But many questions that hard forensic evidence could have resolved remain unanswered.
While the Aarushi-Hemraj case has been very much on public radar, scores of similar cases have faded from our memory once police investigations got nowhere. The criticism of sloppy investigation in the Aarushi case should have triggered some basic reforms, but things remain unchanged on the ground.
In NCR towns, it is still not unusual for police to parade the accused before the media even before they are produced in court. One cannot trust them to conceal the identities of the victims, even in rape cases. Crime scenes are still open to all, except in high-profile cases. These are criminal blunders. But can we really expect the ragtag force that handles everything from VIP movement to a political rally and provide security cover at cricket matches, exam centres, do passport verifications and conduct daily patrols to nurture super sleuths as well? Not if each one of them has 20-30 cases to investigate.
In Ghaziabad or Noida, you often find a police photographer doubling as a forensic expert, lifting fingerprints, and blood and DNA samples. Forensic testing is next big challenge. Noida and Ghaziabad send its samples to Agra where the waiting time can range from months to years. For Gurgaon, the nearest forensic lab is in Karnal.
Even Delhi Police that boasts of the best cop-citizen ratio in the India has at least 10,000 cases, some as old as from 2006, stuck in various stages of investigation and trials because the samples of evidence sent for forensic examination have not been tested and analysed. The police have just two labs in Delhi and badly need at least four such facilities to handle almost 500 forensic samples from various crimes reported in a month.
While Delhi Police have been promised a lab and 11 mobile forensic testing units soon, there is no such hope for Ghaziabad, Noida and Gurgaon. Delay in processing forensic evidence not only holds up investigation but allows the accused to manipulate the case by managing political intervention, seeking stays from courts and even influencing public opinion through media.
Unlike the Aarushi-Hemraj murders or the December 16 gang rape, thousands of cases across the country escape public scrutiny. Many accused, convicted on the basis of whatever evidence the police provide, do not have the wherewithal to even appeal before the higher court. More often, victims do not get justice in the absence of legally admissible evidence. Yet, there is no urgency to reform the investigative machinery.
Ironically, we need not look far for inspiration. If the Aarushi-Hemraj murders was a test case of how not to hold investigations, the December 16 gang rape showed us how to handle a case efficiently. The Delhi Police that failed to detect the crime while it took place redeemed itself by catching all the six accused within days.
The forensic evidence was collected deftly and processed fast. The chargesheet, prepared by the then police chief himself, was filed within 17 days. The public prosecutors hired were among the best and the case was heard on a daily basis. And in nine months, we had a verdict. This should be the standard operating procedure for all criminal cases. Sadly, it remains an exception. Talk of the rarest of the rare..